TFT Exclusive: Simpsons Insiders Question Whether Matt Groening is the True Creator of the Show
What follows is an exclusive excerpt from the new book, The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History (Faber & Faber) by John Ortved
Matt Groening, whose cynical, amusing Life in Hell cartoons managed to catch the eye of uber-producer James L Brooks in 1986, has always been credited as being The Simpsons “creator,” but the story is more complicated than that. Groening came up with the original drawings of the Simpson family, but their characters and the genius writing that has defined the series, came form other sources, particularly the writing room and its original leader, the veteran TV writer Sam Simon.
Barry Diller, former chairman and CEO, Fox: I know it was originally Matt’s drawings, and I’m sure [executive producer] Sam Simon made his contribution, but the show never would have happened, or have been successful, without Jim Brooks.
Brad Bird, supervising director, The Simpsons(1989-92); director, The Incredibles, Ratatouille: I think the unsung hero has always been Sam.
Wallace Wolodarsky: Sam was the person who sat in the room with us day after day. Sam opened our eyes to the possibilities of what an animated show could be.
Conan O’Brien: I remember Sam coming into the room, and pitching to him, and initially being really intimidated. He’s hilarious. It was fun to try and make him laugh. If I could make Sam laugh, I was excited.
Creatively, Matt Groening and Sam Simon saw things very differently. Matt was not a TV writer and Sam was openly disdainful of Matt’s attempts to include himself in the writing process. Creative differences could spill over into issues of power, control, and credit. Sam and his writers were the ones making the show, but of course The Simpsons would always be Matt Groening’s idea. The differences between the show’s two chief developers would devolve into an all- out “war,” especially as the show gained notoriety and the millions began rolling in.
Jay Kogen writer/producer, The Simpsons (1989-92), showrunner of Frasier: Matt wasn’t always in the room. So it’s hard to ﬁght with everybody and have a real say if you’re not there. He’s also a very pleas-ant, easygoing guy, and the writers room can be a tough place.
Daria Paris (Sam Simon’s former assistant): I used to call Matt “Fat Fuck Groening.” Matt used to go out there and grab all this attention for himself, like he did it all. Well, he didn’t do it all, you know? And I suppose I felt that was very ungracious and unfair.
Conan O’Brien: You heard things, but it wasn’t discussed that much.
Brian Roberts editor The Simpsons (1989-93): It all started to get really petty, to the point where they weren’t talking to each other. Unfortunately, it was me who was in the middle. They were like two- ﬁve-year olds not speaking. We’d be watching an episode and Sam would say, “Do this.” And Matt would say, “Will you tell Sam Simon I think that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” Sam would say, “Would you tell Matt Groening that he doesn’t know his ass from third grade.”
Barry Diller, former chairman and CEO, Fox: I was totally aware of [Matt and Sam's] problems and often mediated them on behalf of everyone. For a while it was not a happy place. But I think it ultimately made the show better.
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